Turrialba owes much of its development to the construction of a railroad, the Jungle Train, that was built in the 1880s to connect San Jose to the Caribbean. The particular route through Turrialba was chosen because the gorge cut by the nearby Rio Reventazon made it the ideal place to pass the Cordillera mountain range. With the track completed, it was possible for coffee producers in the area to export beans and the village became prosperous. The town continued to thrive, when the first highway to connect the capital to the coast was built through it and Turrialba became a transport hub.
Today, due to an earthquake in the 1990s that closed the railway line and the completion of a newer, straighter highway (Route 32) to the north, Turrialba is now a quiet mountain village. The local economy is doing okay however with the arrival of the area's second boom, adventure tourism. Turrialba is a base for adventure tourism and is home to some of the best whitewater rafting in Central America. If that's not enough, there is also great canyoning, climbing, mountain biking and horse-riding on offer.
For foodies, Turrialba still remains an important agricultural region producing export quality coffee, Turrialba queso (cheese) and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Travellers may also be interested in two other sites to the north, Volcán Turrialba, an active volcano (closed to visitors due to gas fumes), and Guayabo, one of Costa Rica's most important archaeological sites.
From San José, head east along the Inter American Highway (Route 2) until you reach the turn off for Turrialba and Puerto Limon (Highway 10) at the town of Paraiso. Turrialba is about 35 km (or 1 hour of driving) beyond the turnoff. If you have more time, you may wish to take Highway 230 further to the north which offers more scenery and less traffic.
Transtusa [dead link] buses leave for Turrialba from Turrialba Bus Station (La Cottage) in San José (at Calle 13 and Avenida 6) every hour on the hour until 20:00 (19:00 weekends). 1 hr 35 min, US$4 per person one way (2017).
The town is fairly compact and can be navigated on foot. Official (licensed, metered) red taxis, informal taxis, and Uber are available. The main attractions nearby however are some way away and will require you do either drive or to take a local bus. Local buses dispersing into the hills all depart from one location near the city centre.
Turrialba is surrounded by beautiful nature.
- 1 Aquiares Waterfall (Catarata de Aquiares). Located 8 km northwest of the main town, this waterfall is about 40 m high and has a small pond that you can swim in. There is also a smaller waterfall on the track before where it is possible to have a 'shower'. To get there from Turrialba, cross the bridge over Rio Turrialba and head northwest along Highway 230 until you reach the turn off for Aquiares at the small town of La Colina. Continue along this road for about a kilometre until you see a giant tree to the left and a dirt road heading down to the river (there are no signs). Take the track to the left (it is fairly steep and rocky so only drive down if you have a 4wd, otherwise it is a pleasant walk). Once you make it down to the river you will reach a T-intersection, turn right and follow the sounds of the waterfalls.
- 2 Turrialba Volcano National Park (Volcán Turrialba), ☏ . Tours start from 06:00 to 10:00. Was closed to visitors from 2012 to 2020 due to ongoing gas eruptions, reopened on December 2020. On a clear day it was possible to see the gas column from view points around the area. A phone reservation is required, road access is from Santa Cruz town, taking regional road 20 (Ruta Cantonal 020) towards Tapojo sector, through the private farm Monte Calas (see coordinates in this entry) note that the direct National Route 417 is closed due to a dispute with local dairy farmers. A 4km moderate to high difficulty is required. ₡6000 for mandatory group tour guide and for each person ₡1000 for Costa Rica citizens or ₡7000 (USD $12) for foreigners.
- 3 Guayabo National Monument. One of the most important archaeological sites in Central America. Guayabo was chiefdom that includes a still functional running water supply.
- 4 Turrialba FC. The city's football team have spent several seasons in the Costa Rican Primera División. They play their home games at the Estadio Rafael Ángel Camacho.
The area is a base for extreme sports. The most famous is of course river rafting on either the Pacuare or Pejibaye Rivers. Climbing and canyoning is also popular in Turrialba as is mountain biking and horse riding. There are a number of tour operators offering all or some of these activities.
- Tico's River Rafting, ☏ , email@example.com. Contactable 24 hours a day. Whitewater rafting company based in Turrialba offering 1- and 2-day trips to both the Pacuare or Pejibaye Rivers.
- [dead link] Adrenalina White Water Rafting and Eco Adventure, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Offering 1- and 2-day rafting trips, plus kayaking, mountain biking and horse riding adventures.
To some, the agriculture products that are produced here are more of a reason to come then the extreme sports.
- Coffee - the fertile lands of Turrialba make for growing excellent coffee and the beans are exported around the world. A great way to buy beans is to visit the plantations (either on your own or part of a tour) and buy them from the farmers directly.
- Turrialba Cheese - it is possible to buy the fresh queso in the markets or bakeries in town or go for a drive and buy some from the farmers directly.
- Fruits and vegetables - there is a farmers' market in town (only open Friday and Saturdays) that sells an excellent variety of produce. It is possible to buy and try many vegetables that you likely have never seen before.
For everyday items, there are a few supermarkets in town. The cheapest is Maxi Pali, located on the eastern edge of the town.
- Farmer's Market (Las Ventas), A long green shelter over the old rail corridor in the city centre. Fresh fruits and vegetables and Turrialba cheeses are sold by local producers. Cheaper than the chain grocery stores (Maxi Pali, etc.), so it's popular with locals. Cash only. Open Fridays and Saturdays from around 7:00 AM to early afternoon. Bring a sturdy bag for your purchases, or you can buy plastic bags from a vendor.
- Restaurante El Rancho del Sapito. On the scenic road 230 coming from San José, this place offers excellent Costa Rican, South American and Italian food.
- Locos Bar, Across from main bus station. Popular with young people, especially around end-of-year vacations.
- Spanish by the River. Perched on a hill overlooking Turrialba and located 5-10 minutes drive from town, Spanish by the River is a beautiful wooden house that offers dorm beds for US$12 a night. For those without a vehicle, there is a local bus stop directly out the front of the hostel that can take you into town, otherwise a 30-minute walk.
- Hostel Casa de Lis, Costado sur del Bancrédtio, contiguo las oficinas del ICE, Avenida 0, ☏ . While not offering the spectacular scenery of Spanish by the River, Hostel Casa de Lis offers dorm rooms and basic double rooms in the centre of town and is therefore a good choice this is a good choice for those that want to be close to all the shops and transport options.
Mid-range and splurge
- Casa Turire, ☏ . 10 minutes drive away from town and located next to the beautiful Angostura Lake, Casa Turire offers deluxe rooms, year-round pool and restaurant.